WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009 – Defense Department officials are encouraged by the Pakistani campaign in the country’s Swat Valley and in its provinces of Buner and Dir, but North Korea continues to be a vexing issue, the Pentagon press secretary said here Monday.

Pakistan’s month-long offensive against the Taliban within its borders is going well, Geoff Morrell said during a Pentagon news conference. “We are hoping that the offensive continues to the point that these militants in this region are defeated,” he said.

The United States continues to stand ready to provide whatever assistance the Pakistani military needs to finish the job, Morrell said. “But we are clearly encouraged by the fact that, ever since there was this encroachment on Islamabad by the Taliban and associated other militant groups, we are seeing an aggressive and sustained military operation in response,” he added.

North Korea continues to be a problem, and the press secretary said the U.S. position will continue to stress diplomacy. “Our focus is now and has been and likely will continue to be on coming up with diplomatic and economic pressures that will persuade the North from abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the platforms to deliver them,” he said.

American efforts are focused on the United Nations and the Six-Party Talks with the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and North Korea.

Still other actions are contemplated should diplomacy fail. “Obviously, we never take anything off the table in terms of what our options are should the North not be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear-weapons capability,” Morrell said, “but that’s not where our focus is right now.”

Morrell reiterated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ statement in Singapore last week. “He, like the president and almost everybody else involved in this, is sick of buying the same horse multiple times — is sick of responding to North Korean provocations by making concessions that get you back to the status quo ante only to see this all unfold again,” Morrell said.

“So while we are pursuing diplomacy and while we are pursuing economic sanctions, we are simultaneously working with our allies … who may be amenable to this on trying to devise additional defensive measures, prudent planning in the event that the North continues down this reckless path,” he said.

Gates has tasked his policy team to figure out creative and prudent ways to bolster defenses if North Korea continues, Morrell said.

The United States will work with Japan and South Korea or alone if it has to, he said.

“We’re talking about this on a trilateral basis, which would be ideal, on a bilateral basis if necessary, and, if it comes to that, unilaterally,” the press secretary said.

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